Foreigners Support Obama over McCain by More Than 4 to 1, Global Poll Shows

By Patrick Goodenough | September 10, 2008 | 5:04 AM EDT

A BBC World Service poll finds that in all 22 countries surveyed, respondents favored Democrat Barack Obama for president over his Republican rival John McCain. But nearly four in ten people didn't know or didn't care.

( – Foreigners support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama over Republican presidential candidate John McCain by more than 4 to 1, 49 percent to 12 percent, a poll of more than 20,000 people spread across more than 20 foreign countries revealed.

Nearly four in ten people contacted in 22 countries surveyed indicated no preference in November’s U.S. presidential election. They instead gave replies such as “neither,” “either,” “don’t know” or “no difference.”
The headline arising from the BBC World Service poll was that in all 22 countries surveyed, respondents preferred Obama to McCain by 49-12 points, with the remaining 39 percent not picking either candidate.
In individual countries polled, the margin in favor of Obama ranged from 82 percent in Kenya – his father’s homeland – to nine percent in India.
The survey of 22,531 people was conducted between July 8 and August 27, a period that included the buildup to the political convention season and some of the Democratic Party gathering, but ended before the Republican event and McCain’s announcement of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Respondents were surveyed in Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.
Among the findings:
-- Of the seven countries with the largest majorities favoring Obama, four are NATO allies (Italy 76 percent; France 69 percent; Canada 66 percent and Germany 65 percent.) The other three are Kenya (87 percent), Australia (67 percent) and Nigeria (66 percent).
-- Under an Obama presidency, 46 percent of respondents said America’s relations with the rest of the world would improve, 22 percent said relations would stay the same, and seven percent said they would get worse. Under McCain, 20 percent said relations would get better, 37 percent said they would stay the same and 16 percent said they would get worse.
-- In Russia, although more participants preferred Obama to McCain (by an 18-7 point margin), the overwhelming majority (75 percent) – more than in any other country – did not express a preference. Furthermore, Russian respondents saw very little difference between a McCain or an Obama administration when it came to U.S. relations with the world. The survey period coincided with Russia’s military intervention in Georgia, a crisis that has taken Russia-U.S. ties to their lowest ebb in decades.
-- In Turkey, respondents picked Obama over McCain by 26-11 points – but more people thought U.S. relations with the rest of the world would get better under McCain than under Obama.
-- Similarly, in Singapore, while Obama was favored over McCain, more respondents envisaged relations with the U.S. improving with McCain in the White House than Obama.
Last time round
The poll commissioned by the BBC World Service was carried out by international polling firm, GlobeScan Inc. and the University of Maryland’s program on international policy attitudes (PIPA).
Four years ago this month, the same polling partnership surveyed 34,000 people in 35 countries, and found that in 31 of them, respondents hoped to see Democrat Sen. John Kerry defeat the incumbent, President Bush, in the Nov. 2004 election.
The exceptions were the Philippines, which favored Bush by the largest margin, Nigeria, Poland and Thailand. In that poll, a total of 34 percent of those surveyed did not express a preference.
The 2004 campaign also saw another international poll – conducted by newspapers in 10 countries in Europe, Asia and North America – favor Kerry over the eventual winner. Israel and Russia went for Bush, while Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Britain, France and Spain favored Kerry.
Backfire risk
Commenting on the new poll, GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller said, “Large numbers of people around the world clearly like what Barack Obama represents.”
Writing in Britain’s left-wing Guardian Wednesday, columnist Jonathan Freedland voiced “pessimism … combined with rising frustration” about McCain’s showing in the polls in the U.S.
“If Americans choose McCain, they will be turning their back on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger,” he said.
“Suddenly Europeans and others will conclude that their dispute is with not only one ruling clique, but Americans themselves. For it will have been the American people, not the politicians, who will have passed up a once-in-a-generation chance for a fresh start – a fresh start the world is yearning for.”
Freedland acknowledged the risk that foreigners’ voicing support for an American candidate could backfire.
Noting that the Democrat’s rapturous reception in Berlin last July had damaged his image at home, he said “even to mention Obama’s support around the world is to hurt him.”
Some posters on left-wing blogs in the U.S. overnight reflected that concern.
“Don’t publicize that [BBC poll],” urged one on the Democratic Underground site. “For some people, that would be all the more reason not to vote for Obama.”
“You know they will say it is proof he is bad for America,” said another, while a third said the poll would rally Republicans. “They hate it when the rest of the world tells them what to do.”
During the 2004 Bush-Kerry race, the Guardian launched a controversial campaign which critics saw as an attempt to sway the outcome in a swing county in the decisive battleground state of Ohio.
It made available to readers more than 14,000 names and mailing addresses of registered but non-party affiliated voters in Clark County – which Al Gore won by just 324 votes in 2000 – urging them to write to the Americans about their views on the election.
After an angry backlash from thousands of Americans, the paper dropped the campaign. An Ohio Republican said the Guardian campaign had fired up the party base. Bush won the county by 1,406 votes.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow